Published on February 27th, 2019 | by Tina Casey
February 27th, 2019 by Tina Casey
The renewable hydrogen economy may be a fantasy to some, but the Canadian utility New Brunswick Power is stepping in where angels fear to tread. It’s not going in on tip-toe, either. NB Power plans on developing up to 30 power stations that will deploy renewable hydrogen to generate electricity and serve as distributed energy storage.
If that sounds ambitious, it is. The new energy infrastructure will be the first of its kind in the world.
A World’s First For Renewable Hydrogen & Energy Storage
Regardless of all the hoopla over new lithium-ion and flow battery technology, hydropower dams are still the single largest energy storage platform in the US and Canada, by a wide margin. Pumped storage and energy efficiency upgrades are stretching the use of these water-based batteries even farther.
Other battery technologies have a long way to go before they can beat hydropower on cost. What they can do, though, is beat hydropower on location.
NB Power took a look at its hydropower resources and decided that they were not sufficient to provide for its carbon-reducing plans.
That’s where renewable hydrogen comes in. The idea is to use a combination of hydro, wind, and existing nuclear power stations to pry hydrogen loose from seawater. The 30 or so hydrogen-powered generating stations would be located along coastal areas in New Brunswick.
The result will be a “net-zero carbon-generating power operation.”
NB Power anticipates that the new arrangement will enable it to stabilize its rates and keep them low.
The utility also foresees that the new grid can be replicated elsewhere in North America and around the world, so there’s that.
What Renewable Hydrogen?
For those of you new to the renewable hydrogen topic, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and it has innumerable uses in the industrial and transportation sectors.
The problem is that hydrogen does not exist alone. It has to be extracted from something, and that something is typically fossil natural gas.
The good news is that the falling cost of wind and solar power have made it possible for cost-effective, renewable pathways to emerge.
One of the main areas of renewable hydrogen exploitation is electrolysis, in which an electrical current is applied to water.
If your electricity is sourced from fossil fuels, that’s a non-starter in terms of a climate change solution. Using renewable energy to juice the operation is a horse of a different color.
Energy storage comes into the picture when you have excess renewable energy capacity. If you can’t find a place to feed it into the grid you can use it to produce hydrogen, and store the hydrogen.
You can also transport your hydrogen from place to place, including areas where a road or pipeline system exists but an electricity grid connection is not feasible.
Renewable Hydrogen From Seawater
That’s not quite as easy as it sounds. To help ensure success on its renewable hydrogen journey, NB Power partnered with the A-list US company Joi Scientific, which is headquartered at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, so there’s that.
If Joi Scientific rings a bell, the company just nailed its first license for “Hydrogen 2.0,” its proprietary H2 system. It’s a big one, too. The watercraft company Marine Max is checking out the system for zero emission, on-board power generation based on seawater.
“Hydrogen 2.0” is the company’s signature technology. For all the fuss being made over electrolysis for renewable hydrogen, Joi Scientific’s technology is not based on electrolysis.
The proprietary system is a big secret, but if you take a look at gizmos like the “artificial leaf” (or bionic leaf, as the case may be), you can see where something on the order of a photoelectrochemical reaction might come into play. Or maybe some kind of microbial activity. Or not.
CleanTechnica is reaching out to Joi Scientific for more details. The last time we tried that, mum was the word so don’t get your hopes up, but we’ll try.
Over and above the process itself, one significant feature of the company’s renewable hydrogen technology is that it can work on raw seawater.
That’s a big improvement over past generations of water-based hydrogen extraction, which relied on purified water.
Researchers are also looking at hydrogen extraction as an element in desalination and wastewater treatment systems.
Taking things a step farther, if you deploy hydrogen sourced from “dirty” water in a fuel cell you get zero airborne emissions. You also get water, only now it’s clean water, which you could use for something.
It looks like the renewable hydrogen economy is looking less like a unicorn these days. Then there’s the renewable ammonia economy but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.
Also, if there is wind and water on Mars, that leaves open the potential for producing hydrogen fuel on Mars. Just saying.
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Image: Joi Scientific.
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